Fourth of July weekend just passed. The gusto with which this holiday is celebrated in this little seaside town is quite astonishing.
Fireworks begin to be heard throughout the town at all hours weeks before the fourth. Houses are adorned with American flags and red white and blue bunting.
Business advertise their barbeques and celebrations.
When the fourth arrives at last people flood in from inland locales.They bring coolers and beach blankets, umbrellas, barbeques, boogie boards, strollers and playpens for the babies. The narrow streets and alleyways fill with cars and people and if you’re smart, you stay put for the whole event and simply watch it all go by. The scents of barbeque waft through the coastal air. Conversation and laughter are heard from balconies and porches where large groups gather to celebrate all afternoon together. Social media erupts with complaints about the rudeness of outsiders, opinions about locals who’ve been shooting off illegal fireworks all day, and displays of patriotism that celebrate our collective Americanness.
Once dusk begins to settle over the town, boats gather in the harbour awaiting the fireworks display by the Boosters at Cabrillo Beach. Beach chairs are pulled up on the inner beach to watch. But even before the darkness falls, all across this town and beyond into Lomita, Wilmington, Torrance and Long Beach, families and kids and uncles set off their private displays. Police patrol the streets trying to keep the fireworks at bay. The feeling of a-little-out-of-control rises. The rest of us watch with amazement as at any given moment we can see five, ten, twenty or more sprays of whizzing, dazzling, shimmering blasts of light illuminating this city we all love. Sometimes there are so many you can’t begin to see them all. Sometimes a siren rings out, and we all worry there has been a fire started. We can’t afford that, not now in the fourth year of our drought here in California.
When the Cabrillo Beach Boosters show begins, it is magnificent, long enough to satisfy a whole town of people who just want to see their hearts in the sky. But even after it ends and the families pack up their coolers and beach chairs and sleeping babies to head home, the smaller light shows continue crackling long into the night and the sparkles are delightful, but the deafening booms of M80s disturb and terrify.
As I try to sleep later that evening, I think about the kids growing up here in this town. I’ve thought about them all day. I wonder what they take away from a large across-the-whole-town celebration where so many ignore the law that says fireworks are illegal here. Do they know? I hope they feel safe. I hope they are safe. I wonder how we can hold our children to a standard of law abidance when they see such disregard for it in their yards, and streets, parks and beaches. I wonder what it is that people love so much about shooting off fireworks that they risk tickets, arrest, and fire to use them.
I believe we all just want to celebrate. We want to blow off some steam, release some stress and have some loud, public fun together. Noisy, beautiful, hopeful explosions of colourful falling and rising light in the sky unite and include us. They say we love this place where we can be free from much of what hurts in the larger world. We are part this town. We are part of this country. I hope that is what our children take away from this a-little-too-crazy night in a sleepy little seaside town called San Pedro.
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